Spring has sprung.
Well, snow still lurks in secluded dark places. The grass is only beginning to think of greening and few flowers yet dot the yard. But the ice has melted, the lake is spotted with the perfect white of various ducks and the peepers are making up for lost time, singing their hearts out day and night. Occasionally the sun even shines and the sky turns a light, but acceptable, blue.
The birds recognize the season. The females may be swayed by the brightening colors and sweet songs of hopeful spouses but, once at the feeders, it seems to be every man for himself. A stab at a neck is enough to establish his - or her - right to the feeding trough.
While I'd be tempted to want to teach the finches some manners, I recognize how much I still have to learn from the example of the devoted Canada goose.
This April was an anomaly. In fact Papa Goose could still walk ON the water after nesting had begun.
I presumed she would wait until the snows melted and the ice cleared. Actually, without water I don't even know how they bred but four days ago it was apparent there was only one goose to be seen, rather than the pair of the past month. That one, however, hovered never far from "Goose Island" so I knew she was on her nest.
A regrettable first for me: the nest (with its goose) has to be on the far side of the tiny island so I will be unable to observe the actual hatching next month.
While mallards have a far less savory reputation, it is obvious a mallard also has a nest on Goose Island, a frequent occurrence, but, less so, that her companion will stay close by as well.
Not terribly much thought was given to the mallard until a ruckus demanded my attention. Like a poor imitation of the buffleheads and mergansers currently in residence, I watched the goose dive under water, emerging most ungracefully moments later. This clown act was repeated a second time while, close by, the mallard watched.
I know geese dip under to eat and that underwater flying is a muscle-building preamble to the real thing but the only other diving Canadas I've seen are tiny goslings. It seems to be a taught, or built-in, defense mechanism for they exhibit the ability from their first day in the water.
My best guess then is that, in circling his mate's island, Papa Goose swam too close to the nesting mallard who was then protected by her mate, scaring the much larger and certainly (to me) more ferocious bird who then dived to "protect" himself.
The ruckus was momentary. The serenity quickly restored and all the birds have gone back to doing what they do best.
The buffleheads, loners to date, dive to eat constantly. A hooded merganser seems quite happy surrounded by a harem of four today, ten yesterday. The male mallard isn't too far off - although he does show a tendency to roam a little more than one might wish.
Meanwhile, Papa Goose takes it all in, keeping a watchful eye on the entire scene as he stretches out in the warming sun . . . on the end of the dock!
Susan Crossett is a Cassadaga resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org